How to Console Your Child Who Has Lost a Classmate
I am often reminded how blessed I am with the children I have. Each morning I wake up to them laughing and joking, or arguing and debating a problem. We are a tight knit family sharing everything, so most of the time I don't have to worry about intervening, unless they need a referee. I just sit back and watch them develop into the adults they are becoming. On this particular morning I was working on a hub for HubPages when my daughter came to me needing to talk. I figured it to be the typical topic of a teen's “I want or may I”, but after a closer look at the expression on her face; this was going to be a more serious topic. So, I saved my work, grabbed some coffee, and sat down to what drama she had this week. It was not what I was expecting.
She announced that the brother of a classmate in her class had just passed away. He was sixteen and had cancer. Living in a small town like we do, this would have an impact on the community.
Death is like a ripple in a pond and some waves are more noticeable then others. I knew that many in the community were holding onto the hope that this child would beat his battle with cancer. It came as a shock that his death happened so soon.
I sat here stunned. I was one of them that thought he may be able to beat it. My daughter on the other hand knew that he may not. My son had mixed feelings about it. We had talked about this classmate once before, but at the time I didn't realize how far his cancer had progressed. (It had started in his shoulder, moved to his lungs, then his heart in a matter of a few months.)
I sat there looking at my daughter thinking of what to say. How does one handle talking about the death of a classmate? This death was the third one my daughter was dealing with in under four years.
I began by analyzing her feelings about it, since each death has effected her differently. I asked a few questions, to get her to open up about how she was coping. I am no expert at this, but over the years from my sibling's loss of classmates, to my children's loss of classmates, I felt that communication was the key. If they wanted to talk, I would let them talk, while trying to hold back from giving too much advice unless they wanted it. Most of the time they just wanted to vent their feelings. If they didn't want to talk about it, I would wait, but remind them that I was available.
I found out through my own experiences with death and helping my children to accept it, that are many do's and don'ts when handling the death of someone.
Here are some of the lessons I learned.
Skirt the issue or using words to avoid using the word death. This can often lead to doing more harm then helping.
When a young child has lost a sibling, never tell them that the sibling they lost is sleeping. It may cause an anxiety in the child wanting to go to sleep to be with their sibling or afraid to sleep because it may happen to them.
Resist telling them that the person they lost is on vacation or gone. It may lead to a separation anxiety.
Never tell the child their loved one is lost. The child will confuse it with losing keys, homework, or an animal.
Use the words death, dead, dying, or died. It sounds horrible, but I had my children look up the words in a dictionary when my grandmother they were close to had died. (My son was five and my daughter was four at the time.) It helped to give them a better understanding that this is a cycle of life.
Talk to them about how they feel. If you don't have the answers to some of their questions, be honest and say you don't know.
Let them know that it is ok to be angry, frighten, confused, upset and don't like that this has happened. Mainly it is to get them to express their feelings instead of bottling them up. If they aren't talking to you, they are talking to someone else and may be come more upset by the situation.
How I tried to help while at a loss myself.
When my daughter experienced her first death of a classmate, she was devastated. He was good-looking, popular, and every girl from the age of eight to eighty loved him. He had a charming personality and gorgeous smile. His death was such an unexpected shock to the community that many kids turned to drugs and alcohol to deal with it. My daughter refused to be consoled by anyone but her brother. My daughter cried for a week and didn't want to eat. She didn't think it was fair that a “good guy” like him would be striped of life and happiness. She rejected God and anyone that tried to talk to her about him. Her brother grieved in his own way, but didn't go to the funeral with her because he didn't want to remember his friend in the coffin. He wanted to remember him laughing and goofing off.
The death of her second classmate was just as sudden and unexpected. I was surprised and alarmed by the venom and hatred she had displayed. He was a handsome boy that many girls liked, but he was a bully. He had more enemies than friends. I was caught off guard by some of the remarks I had heard at his funeral. Majority of the students seen his death as a relief. A burden that was lifted from their shoulders. I sat my children down to tell me what they thought. Both didn't really like him, but didn't think it was right that other students were glad he was dead. They felt sorry for the family. The venom and hatred my daughter had displayed was leftovers from still coming to terms with the previous death. She also thought that the events that lead to the classmate's accident were stupid on his part.
This third death has been handled in a different manner. Where I expected either a puddle of tears or an angry outburst, I was confronted with a calm but sorrowful attitude. She knew he was sick and may not make it. He was someone that was a nice kid, but never popular. He didn't have many friends till the students found out he was sick. It saddened her to see people treat him that way. She didn't have much to say this time. Just that at least he wasn't suffering, but that their friend, Booger, was taking it hard. This time she was the one to console a friend in need. I was the one at a loss for words.
There is not an easy way to consol your child when they have experienced a loss like this. Mainly it is just taking the time to be there for them when they need a shoulder to cry on, or someone to vent their anger to.
Don't feel ashamed to check up on your child if they start to show signs that are out of character. They may be finding ways to deal with their sorrow and the stress from peer pressure. Some may even think that turning to drugs or alcohol will help them to ease their greif or guilt.
I was a fortunate parent when it came to my children experiencing such losses because I have always felt that honesty and communication were important. Even in those moments when my husband and I were lost for words, our children understood that we would help them any way we could.
It isn't easy to be a parent.
- How To Cope When Your Child Leaves Home
It is inevitable that children will grow up and leave home, but how does a parent cope with a child that chooses to leave early? I learned what my mother when through when I left home, the day my daughter left.